Adventure With Beryl Coronet

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  The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet Holmes, said I as I stood one morning in our bow-windowlooking down the street, here is a madman coming along. Itseems rather sad that his relatives should allow him to come outalone. My friend rose lazily from his armchair and stood with hishands in the pockets of his dressing-gown, looking over myshoulder. It was a bright, crisp February morning, and the snowof the day before still lay deep upon the ground, shimmeringbrightly in the wintry sun. Down the centre of Baker Street it hadbeen ploughed into a brown crumbly band by the traffic, but ateither side and on the heaped-up edges of the foot-paths it stilllay as white as when it fell. The gray pavement had been cleanedand scraped, but was still dangerously slippery, so that therewere fewer passengers than usual. Indeed, from the direction ofthe Metropolitan Station no one was coming save the singlegentleman whose eccentric conduct had drawn my attention.He was a man of about fifty, tall, portly, and imposing, with amassive, strongly marked face and a commanding figure. Hewas dressed in a sombre yet rich style, in black frock-coat,shining hat, neat brown gaiters, and well-cut pearl-gray trousers.Yet his actions were in absurd contrast to the dignity of his dressand features, for he was running hard, with occasional littlesprings, such as a weary man gives who is little accustomed toset any tax upon his legs. As he ran he jerked his hands up anddown, waggled his head, and writhed his face into the mostextraordinary contortions. What on earth can be the matter with him? I asked. He islooking up at the numbers of the houses. I believe that he is coming here, said Holmes, rubbing hishands . Here? Yes; I rather think he is coming to consult me professionally.I think that I recognize the symptoms. Ha! did I not tell you? As he spoke, the man, puffing and blowing, rushed at our doorand pulled at our bell until the whole house resounded with theclanging.A few moments later he was in our room, still puffing, stillgesticulating, but with so fixed a look of grief and despair in hiseyes that our smiles were turned in an instant to horror and pity.For a while he could not get his words out, but swayed his bodyand plucked at his hair like one who has been driven to theextreme limits of his reason. Then, suddenly springing to hisfeet, he beat his head against the wall with such force that weboth rushed upon him and tore him away to the centre of theroom. Sherlock Holmes pushed him down into the easy-chairand, sitting beside him, patted his hand and chatted with him inthe easy, soothing tones which he knew so well how to employ. You have come to me to tell your story, have you not? saidhe. You are fatigued with your haste. Pray wait until you haverecovered yourself, and then I shall be most happy to look intoany little problem which you may submit to me. The man sat for a minute or more with a heaving chest,fighting against his emotion. Then he passed his handkerchiefover his brow, set his lips tight, and turned his face towards us. No doubt you think me mad? said he.  I see that you have had some great trouble, respondedHolmes. Cod knows I have! -- a trouble which is enough to unseat myreason, so sudden and so terrible is it. Public disgrace I mighthave faced, although I am a man whose character has never yetborne a stain. Private affliction also is the lot of every man; butthe two coming together, and in so frightful a form, have beenenough to shake my very soul. Besides, it is not I alone. Thevery noblest in the land may suffer unless some way be foundout of this horrible affair. Pray compose yourself, sir, said Holmes, and let me havea clear account of who you are and what it is that has befallenyou. My name, answered our visitor, is probably familiar toyour ears. I am Alexander Holder, of the banking firm of Holder& Stevenson, of Threadneedle Street. The name was indeed well known to us as belonging to thesenior partner in the second largest private banking concern inthe City of London. What could have happened, then, to bringone of the foremost citizens of London to this most pitiable pass?We waited, all curiosity, until with another effort he bracedhimself to tell his story. I feel that time is of value, said he; that is why I hastenedhere when the police inspector suggested that I should secureyour cooperation. I came to Baker Street by the Undergroundand hurried from there on foot, for the cabs go slowly throughthis snow. That is why I was so out of breath, for I am a manwho takes very little exercise. I feel better now, and I will putthe facts before you as shortly and yet as clearly as I can. It is, of course, well known to you that in a successfulbanking business as much depends upon our being able to findremunerative investments for our funds as upon our increasingour connection and the number of our depositors. One of ourmost lucrative means of laying out money is in the shape ofloans, where the security is unimpeachable. We have done agood deal in this direction during the last few years, and thereare many noble families to whom we have advanced large sumsupon the security of their pictures, libraries, or plate. Yesterday morning I was seated in my office at the bankwhen a card was brought in to me by one of the clerks. I startedwhen I saw the name, for it was that of none other than -- well,perhaps even to you I had better say no more than that it was aname which is a household word all over the earth -- one of thehighest, noblest, most exalted names in England. I was over-whelmed by the honour and attempted, when he entered, to sayso, but he plunged at once into business with the air of a manwho wishes to hurry quickly through a disagreeable task. 'Mr. Holder,' said he, 'I have been informed that you are inthe habit of advancing money.' 'The firm does so when the security is good.' I answered.'' 'It is absolutely essential to me,' said he, 'that I shouldhave 50,000 pounds at once. I could, of course, borrow so trifling asum ten times over from my friends, but I much prefer to make ita matter of business and to carry out that business myself. In myposition you can readily understand that it is unwise to placeone's self under obligations.' 'For how long, may I ask, do you want this sum?' I asked.  'Next Monday I have a large sum due to me, and I shallthen most certainly repay what you advance, with whateverinterest you think it right to charge. But it is very essential to methat the money should be paid at once.' 'I should be happy to advance it without further parley frommy own private purse,' said I, 'were it not that the strain wouldbe rather more than it could bear. If, on the other hand, I am todo it in the name of the firm, then in justice to my partner I mustinsist that, even in your case, every businesslike precautionshould be taken.' 'I should much prefer to have it so,' said he, raising up asquare, black morocco case which he had laid beside his chair.'You have doubtless heard of the Beryl Coronet?' 'One of the most precious public possessions of the em-pire,' said I. 'Precisely.' He opened the case, and there, imbedded insoft, flesh-coloured velvet, lay the magnificent piece of jewellerywhich he had named. 'There are thirty-nine enormous beryls,'said he, 'and the price of the gold chasing is incalculable. Thelowest estimate would put the worth of the coronet at double thesum which I have asked. I am prepared to leave it with you asmy security.' I took the precious case into my hands and looked in someperplexity from it to my illustrious client. 'You doubt its value?' he asked. 'Not at all. I only doubt --' 'The propriety of my leaving it. You may set your mind atrest about that. I should not dream of doing so were it notabsolutely certain that I should be able in four days to reclaim it.It is a pure matter of form. Is the security sufficient?' 'Ample. ' 'You understand, Mr. Holder, that I am giving you a strongproof of the confidence which I have in you, founded upon allthat I have heard of you. I rely upon you not only to be discreetand to refrain from all gossip upon the matter but, above all, topreserve this coronet with every possible precaution because Ineed not say that a great public scandal would be caused if anyharm were to befall it. Any injury to it would be almost asserious as its complete loss, for there are no beryls in the worldto match these, and it would be impossible to replace them. Ileave it with you, however, with every confidence, and I shallcall for it in person on Monday morning.' Seeing that my client was anxious to leave, I said no morebut, calling for my cashier, I ordered him to pay over fifty1000 pound notes. When I was alone once more, however, with theprecious case lying upon the table in front of me, I could not butthink with some misgivings of the immense responsibility whichit entailed upon me. There could be no doubt that, as it was anational possession, a horrible scandal would ensue if any mis-fortune should occur to it. I already regretted having ever con-sented to take charge of it. However, it was too late to alter thematter now, so I locked it up in my private safe and turned oncemore to my work. When evening came I felt that it would be an imprudence toleave so precious a thing in the office behind me. Bankers' safeshad been forced before now, and why should not mine be? If so,how terrible would be the position in which I should find myself!  I determined, therefore, that for the next few days I wouldalways carry the case backward and forward with me, so thatit might never be really out of my reach. With this intention,I called a cab and drove out to my house at Streatham, carryingthe jewel with me. I did not breathe freely until I had taken itupstairs and locked it in the bureau of my dressing-room. And now a word as to my household, Mr. Holmes, for Iwish you to thoroughly understand the situation. My groom andmy page sleep out of the house, and may be set aside altogether.I have three maid-servants who have been with me a number ofyears and whose absolute reliability is quite above suspicion.Another, Lucy Parr, the second waiting-maid, has only been inmy service a few months. She came with an excellent character,however, and has always given me satisfaction. She is a verypretty girl and has attracted admirers who have occasionallyhung about the place. That is the only drawback which we havefound to her, but we believe her to be a thoroughly good girl inevery way. So much for the servants. My family itself is so small that itwill not take me long to describe it. I am a widower and have anonly son, Arthur. He has been a disappointment to me, Mr.Holmes -- a grievous disappointment. I have no doubt that Iam myself to blame. People tell me that I have spoiled him. Verylikely I have. When my dear wife died I felt that he was all I hadto love. I could not bear to see the smile fade even for a momentfrom his face. I have never denied him a wish. Perhaps it wouldhave been better for both of us had I been sterner, but I meant itfor the best. It was naturally my intention that he should succeed me inmy business, but he was not of a business turn. He was wild,wayward, and, to speak the truth, I could not trust him in thehandling of large sums of money. When he was young hebecame a member of an aristocratic club, and there, havingcharming manners, he was soon the intimate of a number of menwith long purses and expensive habits. He learned to play heav-ily at cards and to squander money on the turf, until he had againand again to come to me and implore me to give him an advanceupon his allowance, that he might settle his debts of honour. Hetried more than once to break away from the dangerous companywhich he was keeping, but each time the influence of his friend,Sir George Burnwell, was enough to draw him back again. And. indeed, I could not wonder that such a man as SirGeorge Bumwell should gain an influence over him, for he hasfrequently brought him to my house, and I have found myselfthat I could hardly resist the fascination of his manner. He isolder than Arthur, a man of the world to his finger-tips, one whohad been everywhere. seen everything, a brilliant talker, and aman of great personal beauty. Yet when I think of him in coldblood, far away from the glamour of his presence, I am con-vinced from his cynical speech and the look which I have caughtin his eyes that he is one who should be deeply distrusted. So Ithink, and so, too, thinks my little Mary, who has a woman'squick insight into character. And now there is only she to be described. She is my niece;but when my brother died five years ago and left her alone in theworld I adopted her, and have looked upon her ever since as mydaughter. She is a sunbeam in my house -- sweet, loving, beauti-
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